Concert promoter Another Planet Entertainment got their biggest City Hall victory yet on Tuesday, as the SF Board of Supervisors shot down an attempt to landmark the theater’s seats that the promoter hopes to remove.
We are now nearly a year and a half into Another Planet Entertainment’s controversial management of the Castro Theatre, and Another Planet (APE) has been fighting against community resistance to their plan just about from the get-go to turn the old movie palace into primarily a more standard live entertainment venue.
The most intense battlefront is opposition to APE’s plans to remove the orchestra-level seats and replace them with flat platforms and temporary seats that can be taken out for standing-room only live shows. And to that end, preservation activists had hoped to landmark the Castro Theatre’s “fixed theatrical seating configured in the movie-palace style,” in an effort to scuttle APE’s redevelopment plans.
But on Tuesday, the SF Board of Supervisors voted 6-4 to not include the fixed theatrical seating in the Castro Theatre’s landmark status. That big win for APE comes just after the Castro Merchants Association dropped their opposition to the APE’s plans.
As predicted, Sup. Catherine Stefani cast the deciding vote — Supervisor Hillary Ronen was absent, but if she had voted with the other progressives it still would have passed.
Pride Month kicked off for the @thecastromerch with the group dropping the conditions it had previously adopted before it could endorse @apeconcerts’ plans for the Castro Theatre. https://t.co/E365mYdEnU— Bay Area Reporter (@eBARnews) June 3, 2023
There was no public comment at Tuesday’s hearing, so instead of going for three or four hours like these Castro Theatre discussions normally have, the debate and full vote wrapped in less than 23 minutes.
“Plainly both supporters and opponents of the APE project have treated the landmarking as an opportunity to pre-litigate the merits of the APE project,” the Castro District’s Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said before the vote. “I am not comfortable doing that, and I’m certainly not comfortable doing that if the intention is to kill the APE project.”
The supervisors did actually pass the landmarking of the Castro Theatre, but they did not approve the fixed seating language as part of the landmark.
One of the opponents, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, quoted Harvey Milk himself from the above letter that originally led to the 1977 landmarking of the Castro Theatre’s exterior. “Too often we have taken down landmarks long before we realize that they would be landmarks,” Milk said at the time. “Once gone, it can never be returned.”
Peskin then continued with his own words. “Unless a genuine effort is made to develop a robust and enforceable condition of APE’s use, with real community oversight, this is a rift that will last and will not be healed for a long, long time,” he said. “I don’t think we need to make this decision beholden to the inertia of one party’s investment.”
I am for progress AND preservation.— Ahsha Safai 安世輝 (@Ahsha_Safai) June 6, 2023
As a city planner and the son of an architect who understands the historic importance of the Castro Theatre, I know this plan will make San Francisco better.https://t.co/VskzrJyN68
Supervisor Ahsha Safai had already come out in support of APE’s renovation plans. “We’re not talking about demolishing and flooring that building,” Safai said before the vote. “We’re allowing it to be an adaptable space that can be multi-use."
Though another opponent, Supervisor Dean Preston, noted that “I don’t buy that Another Planet Entertainment, if they’re restricted with this aspect of the landmarking, can’t do vibrant use of the Castro Theatre.” Preston added that “They could figure out how to do it in a way that better preserves the theater. Or if they don’t want to, they can make space for someone else to come in as many community groups have suggested.”
But Supervisor Myrna Melgar pointed out that the board did still landmark the theater’s interior. “We are preserving the interior, that’s what this legislative action is. We are just not including the fixed seating as of that interior landmarking,” she said.
And Mandelman added, “The removal of 20-year-old seats is something that can eminently be undone, if the APE project does not work out, and at some future point some other operator or buyer decides that it would make sense to operate this as a nonprofit film conservancy, seats can be put in.”
Well, the nonprofit film conservancy he’s referring to is furious with the decision. “The Castro Theatre is a beloved landmark and a vital community asset and should be treated as such,” Castro Theatre Conservancy executive director Peter Pastreich said in a statement fired off after the vote. “Today’s vote, indicating the Supervisors’ willingness to see San Francisco’s last movie palace desecrated so that a for-profit organization can make more profit, showed a lack of understanding of the Castro Theatre’s broad cultural significance that we very much regret."
Help @apeconcerts keep the Castro Theatre open for another 100 years 🌈 Attend the Planning & Historic Preservation Commissions joint hearing THIS THU, 6/8 at 10am at SF City Hall, or call in to voice your support 📲 For more, visit the link below!— Castro Theatre (@Castro_Theatre) June 6, 2023
ℹ️: https://t.co/MXVeL2wPjl pic.twitter.com/XnmL7Jd7JQ
This will be characterized in the media as APE winning their overall fight over the future of the Castro Theatre, but there are many, many battles left to come. In fact, just two days from now, a Thursday joint meeting of the SF Planning Commission and the SF Historic Preservation Commission will decide whether APE can proceed with plans to add an upstairs-level bar, and install tiered seating, among other proposed interior changes.
Update: As Hoodline reports, that joint meeting has been postponed until June 15.
Image via Castro Theatre